Shoot Manual!

by | Sep 10, 2010 | Tips & Tricks | 5 comments

Just learning how to use an SLR? Is the multitude of settings a little overwhelming? Not sure how to use the manual modes?

Persevere! Don’t waste your SLR by using the automatic settings! Learn to shoot with the manual modes (Av, Tv, M) every time you pick up the camera. That’s what I did, and I’ve never regretted it. Yes, it was confusing at first, but once I got the hang of it, I’ve never used anything else.

Here’s a little chart I threw together for someone not too long ago that will help you get started. When you come across a specific shooting situation, move to the manual modes and use the formulas set out below. Experiment, keep experimenting, and experience the novelty of reciprocity!

Manual Photography

Click here for a printable version

For photographers with more experience, I’d like to hear your comments on how to make this document more accurate. What settings do you use for every-day shooting situations? What helps you the most when shooting in manual?


    • James

      I like that link, Paul. It explains things very clearly.

      And good question about sunrise/sunset: I guess I’m more concerned about not getting a blurry picture than I am about getting a deep DOF. With a tripod, this would not be a problem, but when I’m hand-holding in low light, I can let the aperture fluctuate as long as I know the shutterspeed is fast enough. In addition, the sky is still very bright during sunset/sunrise so more than likely the aperture will be a very high number when the shutterspeed is set to “as slow as you can go.”

  1. Robert

    That’s a nifty chart, James!

  2. Benjamin Cahill

    A few things:

    First, I would caution against referring to apertures as numbers (“Low # as possible”). This can be detrimental to the photographer’s work, if he doesn’t understand how the process works. IMHO, I would suggest referring to them in terms of speed or size (e.g. “As fast as possible” or “As large as possible”).

    Also, on “Night Creativity,” you have ƒ/8.0 listed as the recommended aperture. The only reason to use such a low aperture to start with is for the quality being better, and even then, that only applies on cheap lenses.

    Also, the higher the ISO, the more noise creeps in, and this especially applies in night photography and fireworks since many parts of the image will be dark. Therefore, you want the ISO as low as possible.

    When shooting fireworks, for example, here is how I would roll:
    1. Set ISO to lowest setting (usually 80 or 50), and aperture to ƒ/2.8.
    2. Shoot a few short (2-4 sec) exposures, and if the colors are blown out (i.e. all lines are white), stop down the aperture until it looks good.
    3. Now increase the shutter speed to increase the number of fireworks in the frame. They will still have beautiful, vibrant colors.

    Lastly, I noticed one other thing. On the last line, for shutter speed, it says “Blub.” I suppose that would be the dolphin setting. 🙂

    Hope this helps,
    – Benj Cahill

    • James Staddon

      This is great, Benjamin! Thanks for those detailed comments; is great to get more perspectives.


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